MANCHESTER, VT — Cooler days, but pleasant sunshine. A bit less daylight. The faint but noticeable hue of green in the surrounding trees turns to red and orange. And the calendar rambling its way into October.
While all of those heralds of change signal the arrival of fall, in southwest Vermont, it also means one thing for families, friends, and visitors to the area: it's time for the 28th Annual Manchester Fall Art and Craft Festival.
It's an event many locals look to as the start of fall, said Tammie Reilly, executive director of GNAT-TV.
"Every year, I look forward to the festival," Reilly said. "It's a great place to find handmade gifts, try interesting food and most of all enjoy the autumn weather."
The festival — one of the area's best attended events — was held for years at Hildene Meadows in the lowlands of the great Lincoln family estate.
Recently, however, with Hildene increasing it focus on environmental stewardship, organic agriculture, and sustainable environments, the meadows were returned to their former natural state and a new home had to be found.
Enter the Practice Tee on Hunter Park Road, where the festival will take place this Friday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Adult daily admission is $10, and a weekend pass runs just $12. Children can enter for free, and parking is also free. Pets are not allowed.
The festival will kick off American Craft Week, which is held for 10 days in October. Its mission is to educate more people about the significance of American craftspeople and artisans.
Tim Cianciola, of the events management firm Craft Producers, is organizing this year's festival. He said that it's the perfect time of the year and location for both locals and visitors to come to southwest Vermont on weekend and day trips, and to stop in for a good time.
"It's a great way to spend a fall day in Vermont, without going too far," Cianciola said. "You can have a nice drive and the event will be fun. There will be an amazing variety of handmade goods to view and you just might purchase something special. You'll get a chance to buy local and meet with talented artists who hand-make things for a living."
There is live entertainment in the form of three main acts on the main stage, Cianciola continued, and at least six local food and beverages vendors in the food court, which will also feature American craft brews. Well-known artists will also be present.
"There will be decorative and functional items for sale as well as wine, spirits, jewelry, clothing, and more," Cianciola said. "Several exhibitors will be demonstrating their crafts, too. This includes basket maker Jeffrey Gale whose work is in the Smithsonian, and Zhong-hu Lu, a noted and collected painter nationally."
In addition, a local mainstay, the American Museum of Fly Fishing, will conduct demonstrations on fly tying. Casting instruction will also be presented, and children will get their chance at an interactive class tying clown flies.
One of the vendors who is a regular participant in regional craft fairs is Emily Chase Wilson. She is the second generation proprietor of her family business, Mostrom & Chase Handweavers, based in Housatonic, Mass.
Wilson carries the tool of her trade with her to fairs, a mobile loom. As hundreds of people pass her booth every day, Wilson creates, among other items, throws, baby blankets, and her signature Chenille scarves under the style of Emily Alice Designs, which she will display at the Manchester festival in several walls of rainbow-like colors.
"Fall is the perfect season for selling scarves, but really, even in summer people are interested in seeing a person practicing their craft in real time," Chase said "We sold scarves in the summer, and you wouldn't think that. But people coming to these events want to see creative and different things. A woman sitting at a loom surrounded by her work isn't something you see every day."
Such scenes, according to Chase, are why an arts and crafts event like Manchester's draws so many people.
Another reason is the food and entertainment. Along with the aforementioned vendors, live music will grace the festival daily. This year, that will include the Legato Blues Band on Friday, the Black Mountain Symphony on Saturday and Storm Cats Jazz on Sunday.
In all, the festival brings many visitors to Manchester, which benefits the entire community, according to the Wilburton Inn family innkeeper, Melissa Levis.
"The craft fair has been a favorite fall event for our guests for decades," Levis said. "Manchester is a creative and cultural hub with fantastic art galleries and museums, so welcoming talented artisans for a three-day festival is a perfect addition to the community."